Healey Win Seen as Boost to LGBT Candidates
By Nicole Jacques
BU News Service
LGBT groups across Massachusetts are celebrating Maura Healey’s election as the first openly gay attorney general in the country as a victory for gay rights.
“It’s a step in the right direction for visibility and understanding [for the cause],” said Tori Dutcher-Brown, events coordinator at the Boston University Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism.
Healey, a Democrat who won 61.7 percent to 38.3 percent over Republican John Miller on Nov. 2, will replace Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in January. Throughout her campaign, Healey did not shy away from addressing her sexuality and developing a platform on LGBT rights, however, she also prominently advocated for other big issues, including stronger guns laws and contraception coverage.
Leading up to her election, Healey was an attorney practicing in the arena of civil rights. Notably, in 2009, she successfully lead the movement to overturn section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, which would have prevented the federal government from considering same sex couples as eligible for some federal programs and benefits. Since then, many LGBT community members across the country have considered Healey a champion for their rights.
Local LGBT advocates, however, say this victory affects more than just the estimated 9 million LGBT Americans today. Healey’s example, they say, could soon translate to a monumental change in the landscape of U.S. politics—that is, the possibility of more openly gay candidates running for office.
“For LGBTQ young people everywhere, Maura is an example of how far they can go, and how much they can accomplish,” said KC Coredini, executive director of MassEquality.
In the 2014 Massachusetts Midterm election, Healey was not the only openly gay candidate hitting the campaign trails. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund publicly endorsed three other Massachusetts candidates for office this year, one of whom–6th Congressional District candidate Richard Tisei–was on the ballot this month. Steve Kerrigan, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor who lost alongside Coakley, was also an openly gay candidate .
The Victory Fund, which has supported select LGBT candidates across the nation since 1991, estimates that more than 500 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elected officials serve in public office across the nation. And with each year, the fund has increased the number of candidates it aids.
Local groups say that as more LGBT community members seek office, the playing field widens.
“The more and more representatives of the LGBTQ community [are] seen, I think the more we’re going to see others run for office and make the changes we want to see in the government,” said Josh Trowbridge, interim president of NU Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group at Northeastern University, and vice-chair of the College Democrats of Massachusetts’s LGBT Caucus.
As the opportunities available to these candidates increase, the stigma associated with being LGBT has also increasingly become less of a campaign issue, some say.
Healey, though, never saw her gender orientation as an issue in the campaign, said David Guarino, Healey’s spokesman.
“[Maura Healey] appreciates the national interest her election has received since Tuesday and is honored to be breaking that particular ceiling as the nation’s first openly gay Attorney General,” Guarino said. “But Maura is also pleased that, here in Massachusetts, we’ve progressed to the place where this wasn’t an issue in the hard-fought primary or general election.”
Even for the LGBT community, voting Healey into office was not all about her stance on issues of LGBT rights.
“Yes, she’s a member of the LGBTQ community [but]…it’s kind of silly to be saying that she’d only focus on these issues,” said Trowbridge of NU Pride. “We didn’t elect her just to focus on these issues, and I don’t think that’s what she’s going to do.”
Others were not shocked, however, that an openly gay candidate gained such a high-profile office here, in a state that’s been historically progressive on LGBT issues.
“Maura Healey was elected as attorney general in the first state to legalize gay marriage,” said Emily Wren, president of the Queer Collective at Boston University. “In my experience, I have always found Massachusetts to be a pretty accepting place, so her victory here was not a huge surprise to me.”
Despite the victory, LGBT advocates say there’s still a lot of hard work to be done both for Healey and their cause in general.
“[Healey’s win] is an accomplishment definitely, but I wouldn’t say Massachusetts is the place that most needs breakthrough LGBTQ leaders and lawmakers,” said Wren, pointing to the national issue of homeless LGBT youth as an example of the many issues that must be addressed on more than just a state-wide level.
Dutcher-Brown agrees, adding that Healey will face the added challenge of interacting with people less familiar with her and the LGBT cause.
“She’s already had a very tough road to be elected, and it’s going to be a very tough road to get people to think she’s not incompetent because of her sexuality,” said Dutcher-Brown.